Norm Augustine’s Report on NASA’s Bleak Future

After just seven more missions to the International Space Station (ISS), the Space Shuttle will retire without a replacement.  Ex-Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, chair of the United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee review, has published his committee’s findings, and NASA’s budgetary future looks bleak. Augustine told PBS “the human space flight program really isn’t executable with the money we have.” Augustine has given the “White House a dilemma” of accepting the necessary increase in spending or continuing on a path that leads to severely constrained and delayed space exploration. 

To find alternatives, NASA has committed $500 million dollars in stimulus funds to help two private firms, Space Exploration Technologies (better known as SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp (NYSE: ORB), deliver cargo to the station, but will only commit $50 million dollars for commercial human transport to the ISS.  For perspective, “Fifty million is what it costs for one seat on the (Russian) Soyuz,” according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

But Lockheed Martin warns that commercial transit to the ISS would be costly and unsafeJohn Stevens, director of business development for human spaceflight at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said “we’re having a hard time affording the Orion program, which is designed to take humans to the station and the Moon, and now they’re talking about starting a commercial program to take humans [to the ISS]…If we can’t afford one program, how can we afford two?”

Bottom line: unless NASA’s budget gets some significant breathing room, the US may lose its edge in manned space exploration.

Stan Sloane of SRA: “750,000 American jobs are lost annually due to counterfeiting”

Stan Sloane of SRA

Stan Sloane of SRA

Another former Lockheed Martin executive, Stan Sloane, authored a BusinessWeek op-ed piece outlining the perils of intellectual property theft and the key tasks of the cyber-coordinator, whom he says America needs “now.”  He notes that intellectual property theft doesn’t just damage bottom lines, costing the country nearly $250 billion annually, but public health, because “1 in 3 drugs on the worldwide market is counterfeit. Some contain toxic substances and chemicals that can kill.”  Stan Sloane’s leadership has also landed him on this year’s ExecutiveBiz Top 20 People to Watch in ’09. His tasks for the cyber-coordinator:

  • Combat intellectual-property theft via collaboration and increased dialogue with government and industry.
  • Protect U.S. IT infrastructure
  • Lead the way in encouraging cyber innovation
  • Act as cyber policymaker on the national and international front, reconciling international treaties and diplomatic obligations with security interests.

Cybercrime Kingpin Charged

albert-gonzales

Albert Gonzales, Cybercrime Kingpin

Albert Gonzales and two Russian accomplices were indicted Monday for the largest hacking/identity theft caper in U.S. history.  According to Federal prosecutors in New Jersey, the trio stole more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers by hacking into the computer systems of retail chains like Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, 7-Eleven, and Heartland Payment Systems, Inc., a credit-card processing company, between October 2006 and May 2008.    Gonzales is also charged with stealing over 45 million credit card numbers from retail giant TJ Maxx’s parent company, a separate indictment from a federal court in Boston.

Military Experts Question Effectiveness of Unmanned Systems

Last week, Northrop Grumman stole the show at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s conference and exhibition in Washington D.C., the largest event of its kind.  The company’s scope of offerings in unmanned vehicles is so great that E.J. “Gene” Fraser, a VP in the company’s strike and surveillance systems division, gave an overview of the company’s unmanned systems offerings by air, land, and sea, and the U.S. Navy announced at the conference that it has committed $6 billion over the next five years for unmanned vehicles.  But some experts question whether it will be money well spent:

  • Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations “As a counterinsurgency tool, [the drone attacks are] generally ineffective.”
  • Loren B. Thompson of the Lexington Institute “Despite their endurance and versatility, unmanned aircraft are fragile systems that will seldom survive contact with a real enemy.”
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